Vertebrates comprise a large group of animals that are distinguished by one important characteristic—they have a backbone or spinal column.
Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes are all vertebrates. Keep reading to explore some of the vertebrate specimens in our collections.
Herpetology is the study of reptiles as well as the more distantly related amphibians. Reptiles include lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, and amphisbaenans, while amphibians include frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians. Reptiles and amphibians are typically preserved as whole specimens in alcohol. The Academy’s collection includes more than 23,200 specimens and is particularly strong in Midwestern herps as well as Southwestern rattlesnakes. This latter collection was made by Academy Director Howard K. Gloyd as part of writing the seminal book “The Rattlesnakes: genera Sistrurus and Crotalus.”
Mammalogy is the study of mammals. Mammals are typically preserved as dry skins along with the skull and other bones. The Academy’s collection of 5,200 specimens contains mostly small mammals native to the Midwest but also includes Appalachian species collected during Academy surveys that highlighted the exceptional biodiversity of this region and contributed to the Great Smoky Mountains becoming a National Park.
Ornithology is the study of birds. Birds are preserved as dry skins. The Academy’s collection includes more than 13,900 specimens representing 580 species. Most of our specimens are species that occur in the Midwest, though many of these species are migrants that are also native to South America and Canada. Some specimens were collected by Academy Director Alfred M. Bailey as part of his work to document avian diversity in his highly regarded book “Birds of Arctic Alaska.” The collection includes many examples of extinct species such as the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, ivory-billed woodpecker and Eskimo curlew.
Oology is the study of eggs. The Academy collection is primarily bird eggs but we also include bird nests among our 11,200 specimens, the majority of which were collected in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Notably, our collection includes eggs of the extinct passenger pigeon and the first documented nesting of the Kittlitz’s murrelet, collected from Cape Prince of Wales (Alaska).